Payson High School coach Byron Quinlan has no qualms with the number of Longhorn football players chosen to the all section team, even though opportunities for individual prep football players to gain postseason recognition greatly decreased with this year’s reconfiguration from a conference/region to division/section format.
“With 12 players (honored), I was pleased; moving from four conferences to three sections made it tough to be recognized,” said Quinlan following last week’s coaches’ voting meeting at Fountain Hills High School.
“The positions (to be selected) remained the same as last year’s format, but we had 10 more teams competing for spots.”
From Payson, coaches chose Chance Randall, Aaron Barnes and Cade DeSpain Division IV, Section III first team.
Levi Sopeland, Garrett Geske, Cale Novack and Clint Harper were named to the second team.
Josh Oakley, Gunner Goodman, Jake Hacker and Tanner Savage received honorable mention accolades.
The selection of Randall and Harper, both linebackers, was particularly satisfying for Quinlan.
“Only three first team and three second team linebacker slots were open, so getting Chance and Clint recognized filled two of the six spots,” he said. “Some teams didn’t even get their best linebacker recognized.”
Randall, a fullback and linebacker, finished the year as the division’s second-ranked tackler with 137 takedowns, or an average of 13.7 per game.
He was also a three-time POW selection, having been chosen Sept. 2 vs. Camp Verde, Sept. 23 vs. Show Low, and Oct. 14 vs. River Valley.
The only division player credited with more tackles than Randall the past season was Mingus senior Jordan Westover who had 169 or an average of 15.4 per game.
Quinlan praises Randall “as having a natural nose for the ball and as one of the most recognizable athletes on our team by other coaches.”
Barnes, a tailback, wrapped up the year ranked fifth in rushing among all running backs in Division IV.
In 144 attempts, Barnes picked up 1,079 yards or a 107.9 average per game. He also scored four touchdowns.
Barnes was also Payson High’s Player of the Week following an Aug. 26 win over Chino Valley and again on Oct. 28 after the Horns wrapped up the season with a win at Globe.
“He had a great year,” said Quinlan.” He was a great addition when he joined our team after a move from Kansas.”
The selection of DeSpain to first team was another choice that elated the coach.
“He battled a thigh injury most of the year, but never gave up,” Quinlan said. “His work with coach Shawn McCarthy, a former punter for the New England Patriots, paid off.”
DeSpain averaged about 35 yards per punt and pinned five inside the 20-yard line.
On the all-section second team, Sopeland was named as an offensive lineman, Geske as a defensive back, Crisp a defensive end, Novack a tight end and Harper at linebacker.
Oakley earned honorable mention honors as a safety, Goodman a running back and Hacker and Savage as offensive linemen.
Reflecting on the honorees, Quinlan said, “I am happy with the athletes we were able to get recognized, even with all the injury bugs we battled this year.”
With the all-selection players named, the voting process begins all over again with coaches now choosing the all-division team.
In December, Arizona Football Coaches Association members will select the seniors who will play in the upcoming summer’s North vs. South All-Star game.
In the meantime, however, Quinlan is gazing into the future, “I look forward to a productive offseason and know that if the kids work hard, better things are ahead for the Longhorn football program.”